I’m constantly amazed at the amount of history that’s virtually lying around on the side of our roads. En route to Rotorua from Tauranga, we stopped at Mangorewa Kaharoa Gorge. We’d seen the impressive pouwhenua at the gorge on previous trips and wanted to find out about them as well as to get a look way down into the gorge below. There are two pouwhenua, one of which recognises Kereru, ancestor of Ngāti Rangiwewehi. We couldn’t find out much about the other pouwhenua on the Tauranga side of the gorge. It’s difficult to stop at that spot, largely due to there being no pull-off area, and signs that point out the risk of rock falls. In fact, a big area of the sides of the gorge is covered in wire netting to help mitigate that very problem. We were fascinated by a huge concrete trough that was used to water the horses back in the day, essential before they began their long, slow trek out of the gorge and up the hill – a good reminder of how indispensable those beasts were, not much more than 100 years ago, and how different from the vehicular transporters that we know today. The trough’s been re-sited from further up the road, and represents an interesting time in our past when tourists arrived at Tauranga by boat and were then conveyed overland to visit the place known as the thermal wonderland. Alongside the trough are several large concrete block-like structures that were built as tank traps, and placed in the gorge to stop the movement of tanks should the Japanese have invaded during WWII. The downside of our stop was seeing the extent to which the area’s been used as a rubbish dump and a toilet. In fact, seeing the amount of used toilet paper, disposable nappies and the like, at so many of our unique and special places makes me very cranky indeed. I’ve read that this is becoming a real environmental problem on Mount Taranaki, for example, as due to the preservatives we eat, waste does not readily break down. With the increase in tourist numbers, visitors should be strongly urged to manage themselves better to prevent pollution of our environment.

Pouwhenua at Mangorewa Kaharoa Gorge

But as for the city of Rotorua itself, sited on the shores of the North Island’s second-largest lake – what a great place for the adrenalin junkie! Rotorua visitor guides and the internet are full of information about adventure pursuits, cultural experiences and ways to enjoy and explore the country’s most active and historic thermal area. Its relentless promotion of all things touristy has led to a new epithet, ‘Rotovegas’, but Rotorua has turned this rather mocking sobriquet to advantage, and presumably the proprietors of motels and shops are laughing all the way to the bank.

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